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Behold the strength of carbon nanotubes

Tests of submicroscopic carbon cylinders reveal that, ounce-for-ounce, they're 117 times stronger than steel, 30 times stronger than Kevlar used in bulletproof vests.

A computer-rendered view inside a carbon nanotube. ghutchis/Flickr

New tests of carbon nanotubes--those tiny cylinders expected to revolutionize medicine, electronics, warfare, and more--reveal that, ounce-for-ounce, they are 117 times stronger than steel and 30 times stronger than Kevlar used in bicycle tires and bulletproof vests.

The nanotubes, roughly 50,000 of which add up to the width of an average strand of human hair, are already known for their strength. But this latest research, led by Stephen Cronin, electrical engineering assistant professor at the University of Southern California, tested individual carbon nanotubes of various lengths and widths by applying what is being rather unscientifically described as "immense strain."

It turns out that the nanotubes could be stretched twice as far as previously thought before breaking.

The findings, which appear in the journal ACS Nano, establish "a new lower limit for the ultimate strength of carbon nanotubes," a phrase so telling it is the team's paper title.

Of course, much is already expected out of carbon nanotubes in medicine, particularly when it comes to drug delivery and noninvasive blood monitoring. That they are twice as strong as previously thought makes their potential even more exciting, especially in the area of cancer treatments, where they have proven themselves to be ideal transporters of drugs.